Iran Seizes 15 British Marines
The Iranian Navy has seized 15 British Marines.
Fifteen British Royal Marines on patrol in the Persian Gulf have been “seized” by the Iranian navy, the British Ministry of Defense said. The personnel from the HMS Cornwall frigate were surrounded by Iranian navy vessels after completing a routine inspection of a merchant ship, the ministry said in a statement. They were then escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian waters, it said.
The Marines were “engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters,” the ministry said in a statement on Friday.
A U.S. military official who monitors the region told CNN the Marines stopped an Iranian ship suspected of smuggling automobiles, and boarded it for an inspection.
While the Marines were on board, six Navy ships from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard showed up and claimed the British had entered Iranian waters. A dispute ensued over whether the Marines were in Iraqi, international, or Iranian territorial waters, and the 15 were then seized and taken to Iran, the U.S. military official said.
An Iraqi fisherman told Reuters the incident took place in the Shatt al-Arab waterway that marks the southern stretch of Iraq’s border with Iran. His account could not be immediately confirmed.
The British ministry’s statement said the Marines “completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters.” The statement added: “We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level and on the instructions of the Foreign Secretary, the Iranian ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office.
My tendency is to trust the British Marines’ ability to identify their location and stay out of Iranian territorial waters, especially in the age of GPS.
It’s not clear whether the Iranian captain acted on his own accord or under orders from his government. My guess would be the former. In any event, the government needs to step in and release the Marines quickly unless they wish to be even further isolated in the international community.